Mind Align: Fitness & Mental Health

May – Physical (and Mental) Wellness

Working towards mental wellness looks different to each person, each day; it can even change it’s meaning at different times in our lives. Here we focus is on the importance of physical health on our paths to mental wellness. We all know that exercise is good for our bodies, but sometimes we can forget that a healthy diet and exercise are great tools for our mental wellness, too! Waking up every morning and running, for example, is a great way to stay in shape physically, but the actual act itself has immediate benefits to our mood, is a great stress reliever, can improve our sleep, and even boost our memory!

So, let’s really take a deeper look at our wellness as a whole. Let’s remind ourselves about all the ways we can start incorporating wellness habits and activities into all areas of our lives so we can become the best versions of ourselves.

Outdoor Exercise: Outdoor exercise provides a mental health boost beyond that of indoor gyms. Exposure to sunlight enhances vitamin D production, which may be partially responsible for this mood-enhancing effect. When you exercise outdoors, your mind is aware of the changing terrain. Whether you use the hills, the sand on a beach, or a winding path, your mind has to focus differently than it would on a flat gym floor.

Running: Running can control stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps moderate the brain’s response to stress.

Pilates: Aside from the feelings of wellbeing from moving and mobilizing your body, its focus on breathing and relaxation can help to switch on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for sleep and relaxation.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a training technique in which you give all-out, one hundred percent effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods. This type of training gets and keeps your heart rate up and burns more fat in less time.  It has been known to improve mood regulation as well as learning and memory.

Home Workout: https://www.self.com/story/a-sweaty-24-minute-cardio-workout-you-can-do-in-your-living-room

Yoga: One of the main reasons yoga helps us create better mental health is that it integrates body and mind, although it also works well when incorporated with talk therapy and meditation.  For everyone, particularly people who find it difficult or too scary to sit and look at their own mind, yoga can be a gateway to helping understand what they need physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Resistance Training: Recent research shows that low-moderate intensity resistance training produces reliable and robust decreases in anxiety, but there’s also evidence to show it helps improve cognition and may improve the functioning of your central nervous system (which has a big impact on mood and fatigue levels).

It should come as no surprise that the foods you eat can also have an effect on your brain and mental health.  The right diet can go a long way toward keeping your mind sharp. Certain foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, which have been shown to reduce stress, improve moods, increase oxygen flow to the brain and boost cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities.

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and can reduce oxidative stress and improve learning capacity and motor skills.

Nuts are among the best foods you can eat for some added brain power. Almonds — with their high vitamin E and monounsaturated fats — are great for preventing cognitive decline and memory loss. Walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can boost brain cell communication and growth. Pistachios are high in vitamin B6, which increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and makes the brain more active as a result.

A diet rich in Citrus fruits can help delay cognitive decline and decrease your risk of developing dementia by up to 23 percent.

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help slow cognitive decline and have also been shown to help ward off depression. Salmon, lake trout, anchovies and sardines are all high in this type of fat.

Avocados are a good source of lutein, an ingredient related to improved cognition. The monounsaturated fats in avocados help to keep blood pressure levels in check, which is a key to preventing Alzheimer’s.

Coffee photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com Background photo created by topntp26 – www.freepik.com

Coffee contains a high amount of brain-stimulating antioxidants, and studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers experience a decreased risk for dementia.

The probiotics found in Greek yogurt can prevent cognitive decline and age-related memory loss. And the vitamins and minerals found in Greek yogurt are good for relieving stress and enhancing brain energy.

Our brains love complex carbohydrates, which are found in high amounts in whole grain products such as oatmeal, barley and quinoa. The soluble fiber found in whole grains helps to clear arteries and improve oxygen flow to the brain, which can then help offset dementia.

The vitamins found in an egg yolk are crucial to supporting memory and increasing communication among brain cells.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that are instrumental in combating the toxic proteins that are known to cause Alzheimer’s. Extra virgin olive oil is also believed to improve learning and memory skills.

Flavinoids found in dark chocolate improve blood flow to the brain and can boost memory, attention span, reaction time and problem-solving skills.

Broccoli is great for both the mind and body. Broccoli is high in vitamin K and choline, two ingredients which have been proven to improve episodic memory performance.

Given all of the foods that carry brain-boosting abilities, what are some diets that utilize these foods? Read about them below!

Mediterranean
A Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, olive oil, whole grains and fish.

Zone
The Zone diet encourages a heavy consumption of avocados, nuts and olive oil.

Ketogenic
Avocados, nuts, fish and olive oil are all used liberally in the Ketogenic diet.

Lena Dunham, the writer/co-star of the HBO series, Girls, is no stranger to mental health struggles, and being the outspoken celebrity that she is, has openly praised her trainer and new found physical health regimen.  Here she talks about how exercise has helped with her mental wellness: “Promised myself I would not let exercise be the first thing to go by the wayside when I got busy with Girls Season 5 and here is why: it has helped with my anxiety in ways I never dreamed possible. To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I’m glad I did.”

So, whenever you’re lacking the motivation to get out there and exercise, just remember what Lena says, “It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”

Busy Philips of Cougartown and Freaks and Geeks fame has struggled with anxiety and depression throughout her life and she is open about how her exercise routine has improved her mood, and more importantly, her life. She said on a recent Instagram post, “I have anxiety and I have a tendency towards depression but I have found if I sweat[…]EVERY SINGLE DAY, I feel better, I’m calmer, I’m a better mom and those fogs of anxiety or sadness seem a little lighter. I’ve been picking my skin less, engaging in less binge eating and I’ve just felt better about myself. (And obvi I go to therapy too) My goal is not some perfect bod (I like chips and salsa and margs too much for that). My goal is to feel the best I can in my body and my brain for the rest of my life.”

Self Awareness

Yoga, Tai Chi, and pilates are all mindfulness-based practices that can help us become more aware of our breath and movement. But we can actually integrate basic mindfulness principles into any of our exercise routines. Try using the below tips to incorporate mindfulness into your exercise program:

Pay Attention to Your Body – Think about your posture, focus on how your body feels in different positions and at different points throughout your practice. Notice any discomfort or any unique sensations; think about when they occur, what might be causing them.

Environment – Take in your envirmonment. Go through your senses and notice what you see around you, any significant smells, the temperature, etc.

Breath – Notice your breath. Pay attention to the speed of your breath and the sound you make as you inhale/exhale. Notice when your breath is shallow or when you are able to fill your lungs.

Intention – Set an intention before you begin your practice. When you notice your mind wandering, remind yourself of your intention and refocus your energy.

Diet for Mental Health: https://www.healthline.com/health/best-diets-for-mental-health#4

Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/real-healing/201301/healthy-gut-healthy-mind-5-foods-improve-mental-health

Exercise for Mental Health: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise

Eating Disorders: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/eating-disorders